Home » The Best Korean Food to Eat in Korea: 53+ Must Try Dishes

The Best Korean Food to Eat in Korea: 53+ Must Try Dishes

You might think you know Korean food. After all, it’s pretty well-represented in most major cities by now. There are Korean restaurants cropping up everywhere, dishing out steaming hot bowls of bibimbap, specializing in charcoal-grilled KBBQ, serving up Korean fried chicken, and so on.

But all that is just the tip of the iceberg.

The truth is that there is a whole realm of Korean foods that the world hasn’t discovered – yet.

Even the foods that you think you know – bibimbap, tteokbokki, kimbap – have variations upon variations, all of which are worth trying.

Unfortunately, many of these Korean foods are available only in Korea and sometimes in large K-towns (think: LA).

So if you’re one of the lucky folk heading to Korea soon, you’re in for a treat.

Because when it comes to food, Koreans don’t mess around.

5 Fun Facts About Korean Cuisine

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think “Korean food?” Probably kimchi. And you’re absolutely right – kimchi is serious business here.

But there are some things about Korean cuisine that aren’t as obvious as kimchi. Here are a couple fun facts…

Banchan matters

Banchan are little side dishes that are served with every meal. Every. Meal. Possibly the only exception is street food.

As for everything else? Banchan is tagging along. To charge for it is sacrilege. Free refills are the standard practice.

Soup + rice + kimchi

These three form the holy trinity of the average Korean meal. Koreans have some sort of broth or soup with every meal. And some version of kimchi is served with every meal.

There are very few exceptions. That’s why you’ll notice a lot of soups on this list – soup is an essential category of Korean food.

Korean flavor profiles

If you’ve tasted Korean food before, you know that Koreans love spicy, sweet, and savory. But one of the most important flavor profiles to experience while in Korea is “gosohae,” which refers to a slightly sweet, nutty, grainy flavor.

There’s no English equivalent for this flavor yet but perhaps it’ll enter popular vernacular in the future, much like “umami” did.

“Service” means free food

When dining in Korea, you might be surprised when a server swoops by your table to drop off something you didn’t order. It’ll be accompanied by something that sounds like “service” with a Korean accent: “Suh-bi-ss!”

That means free food. Respond with gam-sa-hab-nida (“thank you”) to be polite or with dae-bak! (“awesome”) to get a laugh.

It’s a communal affair

Korea is great as a solo traveler. Except when it comes to food. Whereas you can definitely order most dishes for one – many dining experiences are designed to be enjoyed together. Like Korean BBQ, dak galbi, gobchang, baeksuk, and so on. That way, everyone can enjoy a little bit of everything, together.

Alright, now that you know, let’s dive in.

The Best Korean Foods to Try

There are just too many Korean dishes to ever list in one post. This is my best attempt to list the most popular, the underrated, the must try and the unusual.

It’s a long list so I’ve separated it into sections, click to scroll to each section:

  • The Must Try Korean Food are the foods that are absolute must-eat dishes while in Korea for the experience, the fact that you probably won’t be able to get it elsewhere, and for how integral they are to the average Korean diet.
  • Popular Korean Foods list some of the most popular foods that everyone has probably tasted – but you can find variations in Korea that are definitely worth trying.
  • Traditional Korean Food is the food that has been a part of the Korean diet for centuries and/or has significance in Korean culture.
  • Unusual Korean Food are the dishes that are more off the beaten path, aka not for all tastebuds. If you’re an adventurous foodies, scroll there.
  • Korean Dessert features a couple dishes that best represent Korean desserts.
  • Ditto for Korean Drinks – it’s by no means a complete list but it has several beverages that are uniquely Korean and shouldn’t be missed.
  • Last but not least, I’ve added a couple tips for all you foodies who’s eyes are bigger than their bellies – it’s tidbits of advice to eat a lot of Korean food in a limited time.

Must Try Korean Foods

1. Baekban 백반

Baekban (백반) literally translates to “white rice” and it’s not so much a dish – it refers to a set menu that consists of rice, a protein, a soup, and several banchan (aka side dishes). It’s listed first and foremost here because it is the most typical Korean meal.

For plain baekban, restaurants typically change the main protein dish and side dishes every day. But if the menu says its a grilled mackerel baekban, you’ll get a grilled mackerel with rice, soup, and side dishes. If it’s a bulgogi baekban, you’ll get bulgogi with rice, soup, and side dishes. And so on.

Baekban is most similar to Korean home food since this is exactly how most meals are eaten. There’s rice. There’s soup. And there are several side dishes, most of which change every day – except the kimchi, of course. There’s always kimchi.

Tip #1. Baekban is good in general but I do recommend goeddeung-uh gui (고등어구이) as the one you should try. Go-deung-uh (고등어) is the Korean word for mackerel, which is so popular in Korea that it’s been dubbed the national fish. And ‘gui’ (구이) means ‘grilled.’

It’s a simple dish that’s presented baekban-style, with rice, a small soup, side dishes and the grilled fish as the main star.

Tip #2. Love this style of eating a set meal with lots of side dishes? You need to try hanjeongsik…

2. Hanjeongsik 한정식

Hanjeongsik is a traditional Korean complete meal. But that description doesn’t do it justice. Hanjeongsik isn’t just a meal – it’s an experience. It’s a banquet laid out at your personal table. It’s a full-course menu with an emphasis on FULL.

There’s rice, of course. A soup. And then the side dishes start arriving…and keep coming…and coming like an avalanche of small plates until your table is completely overwhelmed. At each new arrival, the plates are shuffled around to make space for the newcomers. It’s like a delicious version of banchan tetris.

Some places even use entire table-sized platters completely crammed with food that are designed to slide on top of the actual table, like so…

When hanjeongsik is done right, there’s no space left on the table for your phone or sunglasses. Just an overabundance of a huge variety of food.

This is a must try food in Korea, if just for the experience. Plus, if you’re into Korean banchan (side dishes), hanjeongsik is a smart way to taste a whole lot of them in one go.

3. Bossam 보쌈

To explain what bossam is, we need to start with suyuk. Because suyuk is to bossam what a patty is to a hamburger.

Suyuk translates to “water meat” and it refers to meat (almost always pork) that’s boiled in water until all the fat and grease are drained away. Even when it’s made with fattier cuts like pork belly, it leads to a very clean taste that’s palatable even for people who don’t really like the taste of meat.

The boiled meat is left unseasoned and cut into thin slices. It’s served with dipping sauces like ssamjang and salted shrimp.

So what does all this have to do with bossam? Bossam refers to a dish that features suyuk served a specific way – with copious amounts of kimchi, condiments including raw garlic, ssamjang and salted shrimp, and crucially, leafy greens and pickled turnip slices that are used to wrap the meat in.

That wrap is what the dish is named for; bossam literally means “wrapped” or “packaged”

Fun fact: Bossam is always served with crisp, fresh kimchi. This is a practice that’s rooted in the Joseon era, when a whole pig was be served to raise morale among workers making gimjang (the practice of making huge quantities of kimchi to last through the winter).

The soft pork and the newly-made, fresh and crisp kimchi became a flavor combination that’s withstood the test of time.

4. Baeksuk 백숙

Technically, baeksuk is not so much a dish as it is a process that refers to boiling meat sans seasoning. But in practice, the most common kind of baeksuk you’ll find in Korea is dak baeksuk (chicken baeksuk), and there is always seasoning in the form of herbs and hanbang (Korean medicine) ingredients like ginseng, jujubes, and so on.

Depending on the sort of baeksuk you order, you may find stuff that looks a lot like tree bark floating around in your stew. It’s all good stuff, added to give the soup flavor and health benefits.

So what does it taste like? It’s basically a hearty chicken soup. If you like samgyetang, you will love baeksuk. It’s similar in ingredients and taste but the experience is different. That’s because baeksuk is almost always served communally – unlike samgyetang, you won’t be able to order just one portion. It starts from two portions and up so this is one dish you don’t want to order as a solo diner.

It’s a dish that’s hard to find outside of Korea so I highly recommend it. Dak baeksuk (chicken soup) and yeongge-baeksuk (young chicken soup) are both perfect for even the fussiest tastebuds. If you want a more unique taste, look for nurungji-baeksuk (chicken soup with scorched rice), black chicken baeksuk, and the medicinal hanbang baeksuk.

5. Ganjang Gejang 간장게장

You think you know what crab tastes like – soft, fluffy, delicious. But you haven’t experienced crab quite like this.

Ganjang-gejang is a traditional Korean dish that dates all the way back to the 17th century, most likely earlier, and is an absolute must try while you’re in Korea.

It consists of raw – usually live – crabs that are marinated in soy sauce (aka ganjang, thus the name). The crabs are almost always female so there’s an abundance of eggs – that’s the bright orange stuff. The soy sauce is also given a bit of kick from chili pepper so there’s a nice bit of spiciness there.

Because the crab meat is raw and marinated, it’s a sort of texture and taste that is unlike any crab dish you’ve tried. It’s tender, slightly gummy, slightly fishy and so very full of umami. It’s also as salty as it is flavorful so you’ll want that full bowl of rice.

In fact, Koreans call this dish “bab doduk,” aka rice thief, because it’s so tasty, it causes you to consume so much rice while eating it.

Tip: You use the body as a makeshift bowl to mix some rice in with the crab juices. Yum. As for the legs, you suck the meat out like it owes you money.

Note: Another popular alternative to ganjang-gejang is yangnyeon-gejang (양념게장), which means seasoned crab. This dish is SPICY. It’s delicious, for sure, but I find the spiciness obscures the taste of the crab. Which is ideal for first-timers but if you like the taste of raw, fermented crab – go for the soy sauce version.

6. JokBal 족발

There are so many Korean foods that you can easily make at home. Jokbal, aka braised pig’s trotters, is not one of them. Even if you’re fearless in the kitchen and have no qualms about touching pig trotters, it’s a recipe that has a learning curve.

Which is why it’s a must try food in Korea – it’s not so readily available elsewhere. But in Korea, you can easily find it prepared to soft, savory, fall-off-the-bone perfection at restaurants or even as a late-night food delivery.

Koreans love it for its gelatin content – this is a country obsessed with skincare, after all, and great skin starts with the food you eat. It’s also popularly eaten as anju, which is food that’s typically eaten with alcohol, sort of like Korea’s version of pub food. The reason is for methionine, the amino acid found in pork, which is claimed to prevent hangovers.

But mostly, people love it for the savory taste and gelatinous texture.

Tip: Regular jokbal is good but the spicy version is phenomenal.

7. Muk Sabal 묵사발

This is such an underrated Korean dish but one that I am obsessed with. It’s vegan, loaded with fresh veggies, and has a tangy, sweet, very slightly spicy flavor profile that I find absolutely addictive.

So what is it? The star ingredient in this dish is muk, specifically dotori muk, aka acorn jelly. That’s the brown jelly you see above. It’s served in a vegetable-based broth that’s seasoned with vinegar, sugar, and touch of kimchi. Loads of veggies are heaped on top, as well as seaweed and sesame seeds. Rice is served on the side but entirely optional.

8. Dak Galbi 닭갈비

Dak galbi is a spicy, stir-fried Korean chicken dish that you can easily make at home. But I do recommend trying it while in Korea for the whole experience.

At most dak galbi restaurants, they’ll cook the chicken right in front of you, on big round hot plates built directly into the tables. There are a host of extras that you can add into the chicken, as well – anything from rice cakes, cheese, sweet potatoes, perilla leaves, sweet corn, noodles, and so on.

You first eat the chicken in ssam (wrapped with leafy greens like lettuce and perilla leaves). And then bowls of rice are added to the hot plate – with all the sauce from the cooked chicken – and mixed with more extras like egg and seaweed. So you finish it all off with some fresh fried rice.

9. Gamja Tang 감자탕

Gamjatang translates to ‘potato soup’ but the name is misleading. This spicy, hearty soup is more of a stew than a soup. It’s also a lot more about pork than it is about potatoes.

Sure, it’s got some potatoes. As well as a medley of other vegetables like mushrooms, cabbage, bean sprouts, and perilla leaves. But the undeniable star is the pork, which is usually pork neck or spine bones that have been braised until they’re fall-off-the-bone tender.

And don’t get me started on the broth. It’s a rich pork broth that’s spicy and umami. And thanks to the deulkkae (perilla seeds), it’s got a crucial dose of the flavor that Koreans call gosohae, a sort of sweet, nutty, grainy taste that doesn’t yet have an English equivalent but I suspect will soon enter the English vernacular, sort of like umami did in the 1980s.

Tip: This hearty bowl of pork-filled goodness is a popular hangover food in Korea. Get it after a night of soju-filled boozing and you’ll understand why.

10. Korean BBQ 고기구이

You can’t leave Korea without experiencing Korean BBQ. And ideally, it needs to be on the menu more than once because there are so many varieties of it.

There are all the marinated meats – bulgogi, kalbi (beef short ribs), jumulleok, and the spicy dwaeji-bulgogi. These are all delicious, very beginner-friendly tastes, and worth a try.

But my personal favorites are the un-marinated BBQ meats. Chadolbaegi is a must – beef brisket sliced so thin (like shabu shabu meat) that it cooks as soon as it hits the griddle. Dip it in a bit of sesame oil mixed with salt and pepper, wrap it in some lettuce with a piece of kimchi and some rice. Absolute yum.

And don’t forget the samgyeopsal. This is thick slabs of pork belly that are cooked with kimchi placed strategically beneath is so it soaks up some of the pork belly fat. The combination is so Korea, so delicious that you’ll be back for more.

Tip: One of the best side dishes to have with KBBQ is a bowl of cold noodles…

11. Naengmyun 냉면

Naengmyun is a quintessential Korean summer comfort food that you will find absolutely everywhere in Korea. But it’s not so much a dish, per se. Naengmyun refers to the type of noodle used, which are long, thin, brownish noodles typically made from buckwheat, arrowroot starch, sweet potatoes, kudzu, or even seaweed.

There are two main varieties of naengmyum:

  • Mul naengmyun (물 냉면) – literally means ‘water’ naengmyun and is a cold noodle soup in either beef and/or dongchimi broth.
  • Bibim naengmyun (비빔 냉면) – translates to ‘mixed’ naengmyun and is a cold noodle dish served with a spicy red chili paste and a bit of the tangy, icy broth used for mul naengmyun.

Both bowls of naengmyun also come with a boiled egg, sliced or julienned cucumbers, thin slices of Korean pear and pickles radish, and sometimes beef or marinated raw fish.

Mul naengmyun is good as is, but feel free to do what the Koreans do and add a splash or two of spicy mustard and vinegar to take it to an even tangier place.

And a heads up: naengmyun noodles are very thin and very long. So every bowl of naengmyun is typically served with a side of scissors.

12. Bibim Guksu 비빔국수

If you liked the spicy bibim naengmyun above, you’ll be happy to know that it’s got a lot of cousins. Koreans love spicy noodles so it comes in quite a few forms.

One of the most common is bibim guksu, which literally means mixed noodles. It’s a cold dish made with somyeon, a thin, wheat noodle that’s soft and chewy. The sauce is addictive – lots of chili pepper paste flavor with hints of garlic, vinegar and sugar. There’s a touch of sesame oil to round it all out. Some bibim guksu comes with a bit of broth, some doesn’t.

It’s a delicious dish that can be eaten as a light meal in and of itself (have mandu as a side – it’s the ideal combination). But it’s also perfect when served as a shared side to meat dishes (bossam! KBBQ!).

Note: If you like cold, spicy noodles, another one that’s worth trying is jjolmyeon (쫄면), which means “chewy noodles” and features thicker, chewier noodles that have a texture that’s similar to tteok, aka rice cake.

13. Yeolmu guksu 열무국수

I promise this is the last cold, spicy noodle dish I’ll mention. I can’t help it, there are a lot of them in Korean cuisine and they’re all delicious in their own way.

But one that I do adamantly recommend you try if you’re in Korea during the summertime is yeolmu guksu. You know how Korea has hundreds of types of kimchi? Yeolmu kimchi is one of them, made from a young summer radish (those are the green stalks you see above).

They’re crunchy and yummy but the best thing about this cold noodle dish is the broth. The delicately spicy broth is cold and refreshing with a sweet tanginess that hints at the fermentation it went through. It’s a unique taste that’s hard to find outside of Korea.

Tip: One of the best ways to eat yeolmu guksu is as a side for marinated pork BBQ.

14. Chimaek (KFC) 치맥

Can you even say you’ve had Korean food in Korea if you don’t have Chimaek? Because this is more than a must-try food, it’s a favorite Korean pastime.

If there’s one thing modern Koreans love to do, it’s combining words to create trendy compound words. Another thing modern Koreans love is fried chicken and beer.

Chimaek is the perfect combination of these two loves. It’s a combination of the words ‘chi-cken’ (치킨, which Koreans use specifically to refer to fried chicken, not raw chicken) and ‘maek-ju’ (맥주, the korean word for beer.

When in Korea, chimaek is a must – maybe even every night. Especially because the fried chicken here is world-class.

15. Juk 죽

Juk refers to rice porridge or creamy soup and it’s the Korean version of congee. But you’ve had congee before, why have it Korean style? Because the flavors are entirely different and there are variations galore.

Which is why it’s so surprising that it remains a category of Korean food that’s woefully overlooked in every list of must eat Korean foods. That’s a shame because not only is juk delicious, but it’s also a staple in the average Korean’s diet.

It’s not only eaten when you’re sick. But it’s a popular breakfast food, a light meal or snack for when you need something small to and easily digestible to tide you over.

And like I said, there’s a cornucopia of juk that you can sample. Chicken porridge, vegetable porridge, abalone porridge, seaweed and oyster porridge, beef and mushroom porridge – the options go on and on.

It’s not all rice porridges, either. Creamy and glutinous sweet pumpkin porridge, mung bean porridge, and red bean porridge are popular options as well.

16. Chueotang 추어탕

Chueotang is not for the faint of palate but in my humble opinion, it is a must try food in Korea. For the simple reason that you won’t be able to get it anywhere else.

Again, it’s not the squeamish but if you can get over the mental hurdle of what it is, it’s actually a delicious dish that doesn’t really look or taste anything like what it’s made of.

So what is it? Well, it’s a soup that is made with pond loach, a freshwater fish, that’s boiled to extreme tenderness, ground and then sieved to get rid of the bones and skins. The flesh is then cooked again with either beef or chicken broth and seasoned with chili paste, soybean paste, and aromatics like ginger and black pepper.

The best part about chueotang are the veggies in it – it’ll have soft simmered mustard greens, cabbage leaves, other greens and sprouts and green onions.

It’s a unique, healthy and nutritious dish that’s one of the most underrated Korean dishes I can think of.

17. Deulkae Guksu

This is a fairly new food in the Korean food scene and it is a must try because not only is it delicious, it’s the perfect example of the taste that Koreans love – gosohae. The star of this noodle dish is perilla. There’s perilla seed oil, ground perilla seeds, and strips of perilla leaves as well.

A gloriously slightly sweet-nutty-savory dish that needs to be tasted to be understood.

18. Hoe deopbap 회덮밥

Hwedupbap literally means ‘fresh sashimi over rice’ and is basically the Korean version of Japanese chirashi. And in true Korean fashion, that means there’s plenty of chili pepper paste sauce and a generous drizzle of sesame oil on top.

Like chirashi, it consists of sashimi over rice. But that’s just 70% of the story. The rest is vegetables, dried seaweed, and of course, the sauce!

It’s kind of like bibimbap and fresh salad had a baby. It’s also surprisingly easy to replicate at home – get my hwedupbap recipe here.

19. Kong Guksu 콩국수

In Korea during the summertime? You’ve got to try kong guksu (콩국수), which translates to ‘bean noodles.’ This dish starts being offered on menus from around April all the way to the end of summer.

For some, it’s a love/hate kind of dish. Kind of like durian. It’s a cold soybean noodle soup that feels a little like eating a cold, thick tofu smoothie with chewy noodles in it. Especially if you’re used to the taste of sweetened soy milk, it may be a little strange at first because this soybean soup is savory-salty.

But if you’re one of those who find they love it, it’s a taste you’ll crave regularly. Perhaps forever. Which is not the worst thing, considering this dish is vegan/vegetarian, healthy and nutritious, and pretty easy to make.

20. Nakji Bokkeum 낙지볶음

This popular Korean food is a stir-fried octopus dish that’s cooked with vegetables like onions and cabbage and smothered in a very tasty and equally spicy gochujang-based sauce. It’s usually served atop thin white wheat noodles (somyun) or a bed of rice.

It’s a popular dish in Korea and it’s easy to see why. The sauce can be strongly spicy but it also has an umami and sweetness that makes you keep on eating it. And the octopus is seared until it’s just cooked, leaving it soft, tender, and juicy.

21. Agujjim 아구찜

Agu is the Korean word for monkfish, a very scary-looking fish which thankfully tastes a lot better than it looks.

It’s a white-flesh, tender fish that features heavily in Korean cuisine. One of the most popular ways to eat it is as a “jjim” – steamed in a spicy marinade with plenty of soy bean sprouts.

It’s a dish I recommend if you can handle the heat.

You can easily find the most popular Korean foods outside of Korea. So why bother eating them while you’re actually in Korea?

One of my favorite things about eating Korean food in Korea is that there are entire restaurants that specialize in popular dishes and they offer variations galore – many of which you’ll only find in Korea.

So try your favorite Korean foods – but with a twist.

22. Bibimbap 비빔밥

Bibimbap needs no explanation. It’s become a dish so popular that it’s practically synonymous with Korean food.

It’s almost universally available now so why should you eat it in Korea? Well, you shouldn’t – at least not the basic bibimbap you can find anywhere.

Instead, try the variations that are available only in Korea. You can find bibimbap bowls that feature ingredients like duduk (더덕, a variety of bonnet bellflower), cockles, pollack roe, spicy eggplant, abalone, and so on.

Tip: Bibimbap cooked in ‘sot’ pots (aka cauldrons) are popular here. So much so that there are restaurants that do just this. The rice is cooked in earthenware or metal pots that allow it to get crispy on the bottom so you get a bit of scorched rice in each bite. Look for restaurants that have “sot (솥)” in their name.

23. Samgyetang 삼계탕

Samgyetang is one small, young chicken stuffed with chewy sticky rice and simmered in a savory, flavorful broth with medicinal herbs and served boiling hot in an earthenware clay pot that keeps it warm throughout the entire meal.

You’d think this hearty chicken soup would be a winter dish, but it’s actually a summer staple. So if you happen to be in Korea during the summertime, it’s the perfect opportunity to do as the Korean do and slurp up a bowl of steaming samgyetang. Especially since samgyetang in Korea is something special.

Sure, you can find delicious samgyetang outside of Korea. I’ve had it in the States, Hong Kong, in the UK, and so on. But the best thing about eating samgyetang in Korea is that you can enjoy variety. There isn’t just samgyetang – there’s:

  • hanbang samgyetang (Korean traditional medicine)
  • sanghwang samgyetang (meshimakobu mushroom)
  • pine nut samgyetang
  • abalone samgyetang

And so on. There is so much variety. Take advantage of this and order a variation of samgytang that you haven’t tried before. I guarantee it’ll be delicious. In all my decades, I’ve yet to try a bowl of this chicken soup that hasn’t hit the spot.

24. Bulgogi 불고기

Bulgogi is one of the best Korean foods for beginners – after all, sweet and savory slices of tender meat appeals to just about everyone.

Although you can definitely find bulgogi outside of Korea – and even make it at home (it’s an easy recipe, I promise) – it’s worth trying in Korea as well. But skip ordering it at boonsik (분식) style franchise restaurants and look for restaurants where you can try more interesting variations of bulgogi. The kind of variations that you’ll most likely find only in Korea.

One of my favorite versions of bulgogi is siraegi bulgogi (시래기 불고기), which has bulgogi cooked with radish leaves and stems. You’ll also be able to find bulgogi cooked with kongnamul (콩나물 불고기), aka bean sprouts.

25. Kalguksu 칼국수

Kalguksu means ‘knife noodles’ and refers to how the noodles are prepared. Think: freshly handmade wheat noodles that aren’t pulled or spun, but instead cut with a knife. These thick-tender-chewy noodles are served swimming in a thick-ish broth that’s either chicken or anchovy, kelp, and clam based.

Especially for those who likes noodle soups, kalguksu is definitely a must try food in Korea. You can find restaurants that do single servings but it’s a dish that’s originally meant to be shared communally, with one massive pot or bowl per group.

My favorite way to have kalguksu is to head to a restaurant that serves it shabu shabu style – you get meat, vegetables, and freshly-made noodles to cook in a big pot at your table. You can order more of anything you want as well as additional ingredients like dumplings. At the end, you can add a bowl or two of rice, green onions, kimchi, and seaweed strips and have yourself a fried rice as well.

26. jeon 전 & Buchimgae 빈대떡

Ooof. Jeon and buchimgae. There are so, so many varieties of these and so much to say but I’ll keep it simple. I’m lumping them together here because they’re both big categories of food that quite often overlap.

Jeon (전): Fritter-style foods that consist of seasoning foods that can be anything from white fish, meatballs, and vegetables (especially zucchini), coating them with egg and sometimes flour and then shallow frying them in oil.

These are very popular, must have foods for important Korean holidays like chuseok and seolnal. Families usually prepare several different types of jeon, of which there is a seemingly endless array to choose from.

Some of the most popular jeon to try are:

  • Donggeurang-ttaeng (동그랑땡): A cute name that essentially means “circle” – these circular jeon are yummy little seasoned meatballs
  • Pajeon (파전): Flat, scallion pancakes that are fried until crispy on the outside and still tender on the inside.

Buchimgae (부침개): Best known as savory Korean pancakes, these are made of batter mixed with other pancake ingredients. Most Koreans use a pre-mixed powder that’s either wheat, rice, glutinous rice, or some mixture of the three combined with other ingredients like seasoning and baking powder.

Some of the most popular buchimgae to try are:

  • Bindae-tteok (빈대떡): These mung bean pancakes are a classic Korean dish, made of ground up mung beans and veggies and pan fried.
  • Memil-jeonbyeong (메밀전병): These buckwheat pancakes are stuffed with kimchi – a very yummy dish with crispy exterior and a soft kimchi-filled interior.

27. Sundubu Jjigae

Sundubu jjigae is a Korean dish that you’ll find at every Korean restaurant outside of Korea.

So why have it in Korea? Because you can get it at places that specialize in it. Skip ordering it at those franchise kimbap restaurants – instead go to a restaurant that specializes in sundubu. You’ll get the best, freshest tofu way. Not to mention, you’ll be able to choose from sundubu jjigae varieties you probably won’t find outside of Korea, like haemul sundubu (seafood) and white sundubu (the non-spicy version).

28. Japchae 잡채

If you’re in Korea, go beyond the usual japchae. In my opinion, some of the best japchae in Korea is spicy japchae-bap (잡채밥) and my personal favorite, gochu-japchae with kkotppang (고추잡채와 꽃빵). You’ll find both at the many Chinese restaurants that are ubiquitous in Korea.

And speaking of Korean Chinese food, it is a must try food in Korea…

29. Korean Chinese Food 중화 요리

I’ve rarely met a version of Chinese food I didn’t like. But Korean Chinese food is something special. So what are the foods you’ll find at a “Chinese” restaurant in Korea?

Jjajangmyeon (짜장면): It’s not much to look at but this is the undeniable star of the menu and features chewy wheat noodles topped with a thick, jet-black, chunky soybean paste that contains various vegetables and meat or seafood.

Tip: Jjajangmyeon is usually delicious anywhere you go in Korea but if you want the best – look for son-jjajang. ‘Son‘ means ‘hand’ so this refers to fresh, hand-pulled noodles and these elevate the dish by like 192%. Perfectly tender, delicately chewy strands of noodles that are. just. too. good.

Jjamppong (짬뽕): Here’s the thing about Korean Chinese food – you don’t just eat one thing. That’s why at most restaurants, they give you the option of getting a half-half bowl and what you have in each is up to you. What I recommend you choose alongside jjajangmeyon is its best friend, jjamppong. This bright red, spicy, and usually seafood-based noodle soup is the perfect complement.

Tangsuyuk (탕수육): Another dish that goes perfectly with the above is this sweet and sour fried pork dish, another adaptation of a Shandong classic. But whereas tangsuyuk is delicious, I find chapssal tangsuyuk even better – it’s made with a sticky rice powder that gives the dish a special chewiness.

Note: The above are the most popular Korean Chinese foods to try. But it doesn’t end there. More favorites include gul-jjamppong (굴짬뽕), which has oysters in a spicy white broth and nurungji-tang (누룽지탕), which features scorched rice in a thick, spicy gravy.

30. Dak GangJeong 닭강정

Dak gangjung is one of the best Korean foods for pretty much everyone – kids, adult, picky eaters, adventurous foodies. Why? Simply because it’s the sort of dish that has universal appeal.

How could it not? It’s basically Korean fried chicken – in bite-sized pieces. Deep-fried chunks of chicken and rice cake all smothered in a spicy-sweet-savory sauce. Absolutely delicious.

31. Bunsik 분식

must try korean foods
must try food in korea

Bunsik isn’t a dish – it’s a category of foods. The best way to sum up bunsik-style food is if restaurant food and street food had a baby.

There are bunsik restaurants all over Korea, each serving up affordable snack-like meals. These are super popular places for kids to stop by after school, for office workers to grab a quick meal, and so on. You can order one or two dishes if you’re looking for a light meal or several dishes to have yourself a banquet.

So what should you order? Here’s are the bunsik usual suspects…

Kimbap: The easy-to-eat rice and seaweed rolls come in a lot of different flavors in Korea so be adventurous. Try Bulgogi, cheese, katsu, wasabi and fish cake, tteokgalbi (minced beef short ribs), and my personal favorite – cream cheese with anchovy. You can eat kimbap alone but it’s better with friends, specifically with a side of spicy ramyun or tteokbokki.

Tteokbokki: This Korean street food classic is always available at bunsik restaurants. Always. Which is great because its spicy sauce is the perfect thing to dip all the over foods into. In Korea, go beyond the standad tteokbokki – try rose tteokbokki and cheese tteokbokki.

Ramyun: Instant noodles are so easy to make at home but it’s hard to resist the smell when you’re at a bunsik restaurant. Plus, you can add a bunch of extras to the already-delicious noodles – rice cake and cheese are popular additions.

Traditional Korean Food

These are the most quintessential Korean foods, the stuff that my parents’ parents grew up eating, as well as the foods that have special meaning in Korean culture.

32. Sujebi 수제비

Sujebi is one of the first dishes that comes to mind when I think “traditional Korean food.” Which is spot on because it turns out that Koreans have been eating this dish since the Goryeo period, as early as 935AD.

It translates to “hand-folded,” which roughly describes the process of making these little hand-torn pieces of wheat flour dough. They look like flat, misshapen pieces of gnocchi and have a similar texture as well.

They’re boiled in a very flavorful soup – usually the classic Korean broth combination of anchovies and kelp. But my favorite version of this dish is ddeulkae sujebi (sujebi in perilla seed broth) – it’s the essence of gosohae, the Korean word to describe a sweet-nutty-grainy flavor. It’s also not spicy at all so it’s the perfect Korean food to order for kids.

33. Miyeuk Guk 미역국

Miyeuk guk translates to ‘seaweed soup’ and that is exactly what it is. It’s a simple soup that usually consists of meat or seafood (oysters are a popular protein), seaweed, and water or broth simmered together until the meat is cooked and the seaweed is slippery and tender.

And it may seems strange if you hail from a culture where the go-to birthday food is cake but miyeuk-guk is the quintessential Korean birthday food.

Most Koreans will have fond memories of waking up on their birthday to a hot, steaming pot of miyeuk-guk that’s been lovingly prepared by mom.

34. Tteokguk 떡국

Tteokguk is rice cake soup. Lots of sliced rice cakes cooked in a deeply flavorful anchovy or beef broth. Served with a side of kimchi, of course. Rice is optional.

It is the New Year’s food to have in Korea. To celebrate Korean New Year without it would be like Thanksgiving without turkey.

But unlike turkey, tteokguk is easy to make so it’s my go-to comfort food when I need something hearty and nourishing. Get the recipe here.

Note: A popular variation of tteokguk is tteok-mandu-guk, which is tteokguk with dumplings. It is the best of all worlds.

35. Janchi Guksu 잔치국수

Janchi guksu literally translates to ‘banquet noodles’ or ‘feast noodles’ because this warm noodle soup dish was traditionally consumed for special occasions. Think: weddings and milestone birthday celebrations.

But for me, janchi guksu conjures images of old Korean grandmothers and ramshackle hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Because that is where you’ll find the best janchi guksu.

It’s a simple dish, which is why every ingredient matters. Especially the anchovy broth, the chewy yet tender noodles, the garnish of zucchini and sliced jidan (egg omelette), and of course, the spicy-savory sauce that tops the dish.

Because of its anchovy broth, there is a slight fishy note here that’s not for everyone. But if your palate is open to fishy broths, this is a must try historically and culturally significant traditional Korean food.

36. Seolleongtang 설렁탕

This is an ox bone soup that is so hearty, so flavorful that there is nothing else quite like it. The broth is simple yet complex: made from ox bones that are simmered slowly for hours upon hours until it becomes an opaque, milky white soup. A good seolleongtang will turn gelatinous when you store it in the fridge – that’s how you know it’s extracted a whole bunch of collagen from the bones.

Seolleongtang is what I recommend to beginners first wading into the wild and wonderful waters of Korean soups simply because it has the least intimidating ingredients. There’s bone broth, some thinly sliced brisket, thin wheat noodles, and a smattering of green onions.

But when you’re ready to adventure on to other Korean bone broth soups, you’ll want to check this out.

37. Doenjang Jjigae 된장찌개

When you think of Korean soups, it may be kimchi-jjigae that comes to mind but this soybean paste stew is every bit as popular. If not more so, due to the simple fact that it can be made both spicy and non-spicy. That makes it perfect to eat any time of day, for children and adults alike.

But it’s even more than that – doenjang, which is the main ingredient in doenjang-jjigae, is one of the most essential ingredients of traditional Korean cuisine.

It’s known to be full of health benefits and has been credited with everything from extending longevity to gut health to reducing visceral fat.

38. Boodae Jjigae 부대찌개

Budae (부대) means ‘army base’ and jjigae (찌개) is the Korean word for ‘stew.’ And it’s not just a quirky name – this dish literally has its roots in army bases across the nation. Its origin story is essentially a brief history of modern Korea.

You see, budae-jjigae came around at a time when South Korea was one of the most impoverished countries in the world. It’s almost unimaginable now but after the Korean war, South Korea was “a country poorer than sub-Saharan Africa.”

Food was scarce – except for at US military bases across the country. And that’s how budae-jjigae was born – with food waste or surplus processed foods smuggled off army bases. The result is an absolute hodgepodge of ingredients. Chief among them are American processed foods like Spam, sliced cheese, Vienna sausages, and baked beans.

And then everything is given a Korean twist with kimchi (of course!), gochujang, instant ramen noodles (and the flavor packets that accompany them), and tteok (rice cakes).

39. Kongbiji Jjigae 콩비지찌개

One quality that many traditional Korean foods share is that they’re dishes devised from frugal resourcefulness. Kongbiji jjigae fits this bill perfectly. It translates to “bean curd stew” and its made from the soy pulp that you get in the process of making tofu and then combined with pork and kimchi to make a deeply nourishing, healthy soup.

It may look a little funky but it tastes creamy, hearty, nutty, and savory.

Unusual Korean Food for the Adventurous Foodie

40. Maesaengi Gul Guk 매생이굴국

This soup is made of oysters cooked in a broth that’s mainly seasoned with plain a fine, hair-like type of seaweed called maesaengi. It’s actually delicious but as you can see, its appearance can be a bit off-putting.

But if you’re not the type to judge a dish by its cover, seek this out. It’s a unique Korean dish that’s definitely worth a try.

41. Sundae Guk 순대국

Here’s one for the adventurous and the carnivorous: sundaeguk. True to its name, sundaeguk is a soup that has sundae, a popular Korean street food made of intestines stuffed with noodles and spices, as well as a variety of meat and offals.

There’s just as likely to be pork belly, cartilage, and even intestines adding their savory goodness and various textures to this stew.

It’s a lot of funkiness already in a soup. But again, it doesn’t stop there. Sundaeguk often comes with spicy red pepper paste already added into the soup – if you don’t want that spiciness, make sure you tell the server when you order to put yours on the side.

Every table will also have a little serving bowl of what first appears to be some black and white powder. That’s deulkkae powder, aka ground perilla seeds. These add a hard-to-describe kind of buttery nuttiness that’s optional but delicious. Some people add mountains of it into the soup, others add none. Let your tastebuds be your guide.

42. San Nakji 산낙지

Squeamish diners: look away. This one is for the truly adventurous foodies: san nakji. Or better known as live octopus.

It’s made with a small species of octopus, aka the long arm octopus, which is killed right before being cut into small pieces and served with a simple dipping sauce of sesame oil and salt.

Because the majority of the octopus’ neurons are located in their arms, they continue to fire even with no input from the brain. So much so that the tentacles will writhe, wriggle, and suction on to your chopsticks (and the insides of your mouth!) during the entire time you consume the dish.

Keep in mind that this controversial delicacy can be dangerous. Although the risk is small, it’s worth noting that the suction cups are active and if they attach to the diner’s throat, it can become a fatal choking hazard. It’s rare, but it happens.

If you’re going to try san nakji, opt for the common and sensible option of having it cut into small pieces, not trying to consume the whole thing (a la Old Boy). And chew, chew, chew before you swallow.

43. Dak ttongjip (닭똥집)

This dish has the most unappetizing name, literally translating to “chicken poo house.” But don’t worry – it isn’t chicken buttholes, despite what it claims.

What it is is chicken gizzards. Stir-fried in very spicy sauce, of course.

The result is a chewy, slightly crunchy, wonderfully spicy, touch of salty savory snack that keeps you reaching for piece after piece. It’s particularly good as a drinking food, aka anju, so if you plan on enjoying a bottle of soju one night – this is the perfect food to pair it with.

44. Gopchang 곱창

Gopchang is a love it or hate it kind of food. The people that hate it mostly are just turned off by what it is – cow or pig intestines. But the people who love it really love it. That’s because these intestines are smothered in a spicy, savory sauce and stir-fried barbecue-style over hot coals.

And it’s not just the taste that’s addictive – if you’re into textures, you might become fond of this dish. It has a chewy mouthfeel that’s strangely satisfying. Combine that with the bursts of buttery fattiness you get in each bite…mmmmmm.

Korean Dessert

45. Bingsu 빙수

Bingsu is the first thing that comes to mind when I think “Korean dessert” – which isn’t that surprising since records of bingsu go all the way back to the Joseon era.

The classic form of this dessert is patbingsu (red bean shaved ice), which traditionally features just shaved ice, red bean paste, rice cake, ground nut powder, and some condensed milk (in modern times).

But Korea’s come a long way since the Joseon Dynasty and there is a bingsu in every flavor now. My favorite kind is Nunggot Bingsu, which is called snowflake shaved ice because the ice is shaved so fine. The flavors are endless, too – try injeolmi, black sesame, green tea, chocolate, strawberry, mango, pistachio, and so on.

46. Rice cakes (Tteok)

If there’s one food that Koreans like as much as rice, it’s probably rice cakes. And whereas rice is almost always the same – the sticky, short-grain rice known as mepssal – the varieties of rice cakes are endless.

Depending on how long you’ll be in Korea, it’s doubtful you’ll be able to try them all. But if you stumble across a tteok shop, pick and choose a few – some are filled with sweet red bean paste, some with black sesame, others with a sweet sesame, some with sweet white bean, and others are smothered with slightly sweet powdered ground beans.

They’re all good and make a great not-too-sweet dessert and a light snack between meals as well.


If you like a chewy mouthfeel, this is one traditional Korean dessert you need to seek out. It’s my favorite dessert street food because it’s made with glutinous rice flour and then fried so the outside is nice and crispy while the inside is meltingly chewy.

The inner core is filled with sweet red bean paste. Yum.

48. Goguma Mattang 맛탕

Sweet potatoes are already delicious. But they’re at a whole other level when they’re candied like this. Deep-fried until they’re crunchy on the outside but soft and tender on the inside and then coated in caramelized sugar, these little cubes of candied sweet potato are the nuts.

Korean Drinks

29. Shikeh 식혜

Shikeh is the quintessential traditional Korean drink, a rice beverage that’s made from malt water and rice, which is why any glass of shikeh will have soft, nearly dissolved grains of cooked rice at the bottom.

50. Sujeonggwa 수정과

The only way to describe this Korean drink is: warmth. Because everything about it seems warm – its dark, reddish color and the warm spice of cinnamon and ginger – except how its served.

Although it can be served hot, cold is the best way to go, IMHO. The contrast of its warm spicy flavors with the icy coldness of the drink is a new level of refreshing.

51. Coffee

Modern Korean culture can be summed up in one word: Bbalibbali! Which means hurry, hurry! With such a busy, fast-paced culture, is it any wonder that Koreans drink copious amounts of coffee to cope? It’s said that South Koreans drink as much as two to three cups of coffee a day.

This addiction is supported by the ubiquity of inviting, perfectly-lit, comfortable cafes that dot every street in South Korea. Cafes are taken very seriously here and so are the unique tastes they offer.

There’s all the usual coffee classic – America, cafe lattes – but there is also a range of possibly-only-in-Korea coffee flavors that you’ll want to try, like Dalgona latte (tastes like the popular Korean street food dessert!), pistachio latte, black sesame latte, tiramisu latte, and so on.

52. Alcohol 술

It’s like Koreans spend all day drinking copious amounts of coffee – but when the sun goes down, they switch to alcohol. And that’s drunk generously as well. In fact, Korea is one of the world’s heaviest drinking countries.

So what alcohol should you try while in Korea? Here are a handful of very Korean drinks…

Makgeolli. This fermented rice wine is naturally a little bit sweet and a tiny bit tangy, which does an amazing job masking the taste of alcohol. It’s cloudy-milky-white and served in a traditional earthenware bowl with a ladle to serve.

Soju. No list of Korean alcohol to try would be complete without soju, the most drunk alcohol in Korea. Made from either rice or other starches, like cassava, this colorless drink tastes a little like vodka and a lot like shochu. But this drink isn’t drunk for its taste – soju is a social activity, a means of getting to know somebody and growing closer to people.

You can drink it absolutely everywhere – restaurants, convenience stores, and in soju bars that are all over the country.

Fruit soju. Fruit soju are Korean cocktails made with soju combined with sugary fruit flavors like apple, lemon, grapefruit, blueberry, and so on.

Cheongju. While makgeoli was historically the alcohol of the commoners, cheongu (청주), a clear rice wine that’s brewed, not distilled, was for the royal court. It’s similar in taste to the Chinese mijiu and Japanese sake.

That should be enough to keep your tastebuds busy and your belly filled to the brim during your trip in Korea!

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